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Over
the past few decades, geothermal energy has been one of the probable sources of
alternative energy that has been successful in satisfying both industrial and
domestic energy requirements in several parts of the globe 1. The word
geothermal is composed of two Greek words – geo meaning earth and thermal
meaning heat 1. This basically means using the heat from the earth in order
to generate electricity 1. The range of resources are from moderate-to-low
temperature hot springs to hot rocks can be found a few miles underneath the
earth’s surface 1. A deposit of hot and molten rocks known as magma constantly
produce heat due to the decomposition of naturally radioactive elements such as
uranium and potassium 1. The heat within 10,000 meters of the earth’s surface
is about 50,000 times greater in terms of energy than all of the oil and
natural resources in the world 1. Hence the potential of generating
electricity from geothermal energy is extremely high 1. Geothermal energy is
available in what is known as geothermal hotspots 1. The mantle in these
hotspots have reduced thickness which lets the excess internal heat flow to the
outer crust 1.  These hotspots include
regions such as volcanic islands, mineral deposits and geysers that are
commonly known as hot springs 1. There are ways to obtain this heat from
these hotspots:

a)      Hot
Springs for Geothermal Power Plant

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This
is the most common method of obtaining geothermal heat by using the naturally
occurring “hydrothermal convection” systems by allowing cooler water to seep
into the earth’s crust and is heated up 1. When heated up, it rises to the
surface. The steam from this heated water is then obtained and used to operate
electric generators 1. If steam comes out of the hot spring, it can be used
directly to operate the electric generators otherwise the hot water can be used
as a flash system 1.

b)     
Direct Uses

The
heat which is obtained beneath the earth’s surface can be used directly for
uses such as bathing, cooking food and other regular heating needs 1. The
water from the hot springs can be used: to heat up greenhouses, for spas, dry
fish, de-ice roads etc. 1. With technological advancements, the water from
the geothermal reservoir is brought up from the well using a piping system
which delivers heat directly for the necessary uses 1.

c)      Ground-source
heat pumps

The
temperature of the upper 10 ft. of the earth is constantly between 10°C -16°C
1. During the summer, the region is cooler than the air above it while in the
winter it is warmer 1. This method uses the earth as a heat sink during the
summer and as a heat source during the winter 1. Therefore buildings can be
heated up or cooled down based on the season 1. These pumps have a ground
heat exchanger, a heat pump unit and a system that delivers the air 1. The heat exchanger consist of a system
of pipes known as a loop which is below shallow ground near the building 1. Since
heat is drawn from the ground, geothermal heat pumps use a lot less energy
compared to other conventional systems 1. Figure 1 shows a ground-source heat
pump during summer and winter. The red lines show the pipes carrying hot air
while the blue pipes show the pipes carrying cold air.

There are three types of
geothermal power plants:

a)     
Direct Dry Steam

This
type of plant uses hydrothermal fluid also known as steam which is directed
straight to a turbine attached to a generator 3. The steam turns the turbine
which resulting in the generation of electricity 3.

b)      Flash
steam power plant

Fluids
at high temperature greater than 360°F (182°C) is pumped under really high
pressure into a tank which is kept at a relatively lower pressure 3. This
lower pressure in the tank causes the fluid to vaporize or “flash” instantly
3. The resultant vapor is then used to rotate a turbine which in turn generates
electricity 3. If there is any liquid remaining in the low pressure tank, it
can be flashed again in the second tank to produce more energy 3. Figure 3
shows a flash steam power plant.

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